What we wish we knew at 18

6 min read
11 Dec 2018

rom listening to your gut to always staying true to your beliefs, what would you tell your younger self if you had the chance?

This article was written by the original owner of startupguide.com, Ryan Allis, and published on his website in 2012. Read more about why Ryan was happy to hand over his website domain to us here.

In 2013 I asked some of my closest friends at Harvard Business School to share what they wish they knew when they were 18. Here’s how they replied.

Tyler Ellis, Harvard Business School, Class of 2014

Tyler Ellis holds a PhD in Nuclear Science and Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has worked at TerraPower in Bellevue, WA, and is now completing an MBA at Harvard Business School.

Enjoy the journey as much as the destination

Since the pursuit of dreams is usually 99 percent hard work and 1 percent enjoying the victory, it’s important to enjoy the process of diligently working towards your dreams just as much as celebrating the attainment of them. I’ve also found that the celebration is usually short-lived and I’m constantly looking to the horizon for my next goal. By enjoying both, I feel like I’ve never had to work a day in my life!

Plan ahead but still be open to the unexpected

Despite how much time I’ve spent planning things out to the finest detail, (I used to plan family vacations down to the minute in MS Project!), some of the most important things in my life both personally and professionally have come completely out of the blue.

It is important to have a plan that leads to the accomplishment of your dreams but do allow yourself to be open to the unexpected, because life can have a lot of surprises in store!

Listen to your gut, it’s usually right

The gut is an incredibly insightful tool that we all should listen to a lot more often. I’ve avoided many difficult challenges by listening to my gut when it told me something was “off”, despite nothing being explicitly wrong on the surface. Listening to my gut has also allowed me to enjoy phenomenal experiences that I might otherwise missed out on if I only relied on logic.

Know and always live by your core beliefs

It’s important to first identify your core beliefs and then use these as benchmarks for how to live your life. Although one small sidestep around these beliefs can seem unimportant now, it makes the subsequent sidesteps easier and easier until one day the person realizes how far astray they’ve gone and wonders “how did I get here?”

By applying core beliefs to the morally ambiguous situations that inevitably pop up in life, you can always sleep well at night.

Tomorrow is only an excuse away

When tackling my “To Do” lists, the question of getting it done either today or tomorrow inevitably comes up. I do, however, always choose today. I’ve found that if it’s unimportant enough to not get done today then it will be the same tomorrow and the next day until a large enough amount of time passes that it’s forgotten.

If you want to do something, there is no better day to start than today. Someday is always comfortably on the horizon, never getting closer or further away.

Additional things I wish I knew at 18

  • Be aware who you spend your time with, because after a while, you’ll start becoming like them.
  • Make sure to have a person or place that helps you put everything into perspective. This can help you to find the right answer to the problem as well as appropriately frame its importance in the context of your life.
  • Treat everyone with a high level of respect because you never know who you’re talking to.
  • Live with reckless abandon.
  • Revel in whatever stage of life you’re in. It’s a waste to wish you were in another one.
  • Pursue what you’re truly passionate about; the money will come.
  • Treat money as an enabler rather than a goal.
  • Love people for who they are now, rather than who they could become in the future.


Revel in whatever stage of life you’re in. It’s a waste to wish you were in another one.

Captain Ben Faw, Harvard Business School Class of 2014

Captain Ben Faw served in Iraq as an Infantry Platoon Leader in the 25th Infantry Division, worked at Tesla in global supply chain management, and is now completing an MBA at Harvard Business School. Here’s what Ben wishes he would have known at age 18.

Always help others

While it may seem small and of little consequence, the tiniest helpful action to another human can have a large impact over the short and long-term in your life, (and often will make you feel better immediately).

In my experiences thus far I have never looked back and wished I had not helped another person. When I was 18 and at many other times I was so internally focused that I lost opportunities to have a major positive impact helping others. If I could go back, I would help them.

Always dream big

While you hear it from a lot of people, it is actually true. Do not settle for something because others say that it is as good as you can do. For me I would never have made it where I am today without dreaming big. When you dream big, think about the action plan of how you can achieve the dream, and backwards plan into achieving that dream. Anything is possible.

Work hard, but stop to smell the roses

While you blaze along helping others and dreaming big, it is easy to lose track of the significant moments and accomplishments along the way. If we do not mark out the major milestones, we miss out on a large chunk of our wonderful life experience.

I have a strong track record of failing to “smell the roses” and I think my own life is less rich as a result. When I completed a major chapter of my life (military service), I had only a small ceremony and then moved on. If I could go back I would have made more of the event as it was such a major transition and a significant “life-moment.”

If all of your friends are telling you that a certain event is “huge” and you should really mark it with a celebration (dinner, trip, crazy haircut) go do it! Life is so much shorter than we think. Mark the key dates every time!

Push boundaries – but stay true to your own

When I was 18 I was reluctant to go way off the beaten path. I wanted a less risky route and at times made choices that were out of fear rather than the joy of life.

Take the risk and push the limits. The human body is amazing in what it can do, and if we never push outside of what we know, we miss out on opportunities we could never imagine.

In regards to your own boundaries, build the morals and values early, and they will be your guiding lights in dark times. If you have these strong boundaries deep inside, the hardest winds of life will not blow you away.

While you might fall short or fail along the way, you can get back up and try again.

Changing the world starts with changing yourself

Never underestimate the power of one person with conviction. As I’ve heard a million times, the first person the leader leads is him or herself. These words only ring truer as life moves along.

As you first act as the needed change agent, you will slowly have others who will see you are genuine, and eventually join in your pursuit.

Ideas to live by:

• Never quit

• Make a difference every day in the life of someone

• Smile and laugh every day

• Give selflessly

Main photo: Unsplash/Jan Kahanek

*This article was originally published on November 12th, 2018 and updated on December 1st, 2018.